(KINGSVILLE, ON) – Sunday’s Kingsville Kings game was a hockey match that will not be forgotten by their hometown faithful for a long while. Uncharacteristic of a Kings home affair, the local crew won a battle of inches against the St George Ravens, as opposed to the usual victory by miles.
The 3-2 win was Kingsville’s ninth in a row.
“I think the big thing is we are sticking to our game plan and staying positive throughout the game,” said coach Michael Guzzo, whose boys now sit second place in the South Division of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League. “It doesn’t matter who scores first, it’s battling through, staying positive and continuing to work.”
The Kings started things up early when Tyler Garcia popped the puck in behind Ravens tender Tyler Lewis, 7:28 into the game. Dan Leach continued the assault for the home team, netting an unassisted marker at the halfway point of the opening frame.
St George and Kingsville blasted Lewis and Kings netminder Chase Stanford with a combined 38 shots in the first 20 minutes, as both teams went for the kill early. Before the period could end, Aaron Smith put the Ravens back within one, cashing in a rebound late on a Leach slashing power play.
In the second, the defensive squads of both teams took over. Despite each team being penalized five times in the frame, neither club could provoke a lengthy offensive drive.
At one point in the second, the Kings appeared to extend their lead with a top-shelf blast, but the referee signaled the washout and the game continued. The scoreless drought persisted until late in the third period.
With just over a half-minute to go, Smith struck again for the Ravens, picking up a rebound through the scramble and putting it home.
The game appeared to be heading to extra time, but Andrew Baxter would have none of that. Picking off the puck during a St George neutral zone miscue, Baxter flew up the wing, battling a Ravens defender and slammed the puck into Lewis with a point-blank blast.
Lewis could not handle the ricochet and it flipped into the air and behind him before rolling over the goal line, with 14 seconds left to play.
St George did not hang their heads. Instead, the Ravens won the next draw and pushed deep into Kings territory. After bouncing a few pucks off Stanford, they were able to trap him down and behind a throng of players obscuring his view.
A St George player hammered the puck through the crowd just as the buzzer sounded. The puck crossed the line, but the referee waved the goal off without hesitation.
The Kings erupted from their bench and piled onto Stanford as the Ravens pled for an appeal. As Kingsville left the ice, the despondent Ravens stayed and awaited an explanation.
After a brief, but calm, discussion with the ref, St George finally headed for their dressing room. Ravens’ coach Dane O’Neill approached Guzzo on the bench and the two exchanged a hearty handshake after a battle well fought.
Stanford was solid in net for the Kings, stopping 31 of 33 attempts for the victory. Lewis was no slouch at the other end, peppered with 45 shots in defeat.
“Those 2-1, 3-2 games are games that you will see in playoff hockey and that’s what we are preparing for,” said Guzzo on Tuesday. “It was an intense game; [the] last game of the week. After playing four in five [days] you’re physically and mentally drained, but it’s fighting through the fatigue and weakness that makes you better. Playing till the last buzzer goes is key. We saw it Sunday. If there’s [a half-second] extra on the clock it’s a 3-3 game. And, we will keep working on playing a full 60 minutes every day.”
Just days before Sunday’s game, another chief territorial rival of the Kings, the Komoka Dragons, shuttered their doors. This has not been a rare event since Kingsville played their first game in September of 2015. The Brantford Steelfighters did not make half a season last year and the Norfolk Admirals and Toronto Blue Ice Jets faltered in the summertime.
In fact, the number of teams in the GMHL has dropped from 32 when the Kings first stepped foot on the ice to 24 at present day.
This is not an uncommon theme though. Other tuition-based programs across North America have suffered as well. The upstart Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League has already shed three of its 11 teams and its sister league, the National College Prospects Hockey League, has lost almost half of its brood.
“It was too bad about Komoka,” eulogized Kings president Tom Schinkelshoek. “That team was close to us and we had built up a pretty good rivalry with them. We now will play London and Tillsonburg [a] few more times. I think that this will strengthen the league more with the players being picked up by other teams.”
Kingsville returns to action this Friday as they head over to Beamsville to take on the Lincoln Mavericks. Two afternoons later, the Kings will host their arch-rivals, the London Lakers, in what is sure to be another great matchup. Game time will be 3:00pm at the Kingsville Arena Complex.